Secrets of Standing Stones at Calanais to be revealed

The standing Stones are thought to have been erected around 5,000 years ago. Picture: comp
The standing Stones are thought to have been erected around 5,000 years ago. Picture: comp
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The secrets of one of Scotland’s most mysterious historic sites are to be laid bare, after a report into the Standing Stones at Calanais has been published.

After long-running excavation work at the Western Isles site, the report into the 5,000 year-old stone layout looks to cast light on the story behind it.

Calanais remains a big draw for tourists and the archaeology community alike, receiving almost 40,000 visitors arriving per year to see the silent grey monoliths, and wonder how ancient peoples conceived their construction so many millennia ago.

They predate Stonehenge and were an important place for ritual activity for at least 2,000 years.

Patrick Ashmore is a former Principal Inspector of Ancient Monuments with Historic Scotland, now Historic Environment Scotland. His report ‘Calanais Survey and Excavation 1979-88’ provides, for the first time, comprehensive detail and analysis of these important excavations.

Mr Ashmore hopes his report will dispell a number of assumptions around the site.

He said: “I have always distrusted archaeological excavation reports which contain only summary certainties. My 30-years of inspecting excavations and reading the final reports on them convinced me that a lot of observation is faulty, a lot of recording is inadequate, and much interpretation is more speculative than its authors admit.

“On the other hand, I have described the findings very fully so the report provides material from which others can advocate different interpretations.”

Dr Alison Sheridan, Principal Curator of Early Prehistory, National Museums Scotland and contributor to the publication, said: “It’s a momentous occasion to see the report on excavations at this iconic site becoming accessible worldwide.

“Calanais has much to tell us about the sophistication and inter-connectedness of the elite in Late Neolithic Scotland, and also about what happened after the initial monument was constructed. The pottery assemblage - much of it in pieces no bigger than a postage stamp - has an intriguing and detailed story of its own to tell, and it’s been a privilege to work with Patrick Ashmore on revealing that story”.

Richard Strachan, Senior Archaeologist for Historic Environment Scotland recounts: “I was privileged to work with Patrick in the twilight years of his career up until his retirement in 2006.

“He always expressed his ideas with bold honesty and sought a critical eye on many of his theories. With this publication he provides his account of the project with the same intellectual honesty and openness that is both modest and admirable.”

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